Behind The Scene: Matt Busch
Matt Busch oversees the world of Bob Weir. He began his career in the ‘90s handling merchandise for God Street Wine and then, moved on to Gov’t Mule, where he first met Weir. (He actually brought Haynes to sit in with RatDog at Wetlands Preserve on Feb. 11, 1999.) These days, he serves as Bobby’s manager, focusing on the day-to-day operations of Weir’s many musical endeavors. Matt has a hand in routing tours and selecting venues—typically six to nine months before he heads out to the shows with Weir and company.
What was an early lesson you learned?
A road crew is a team and family. You have to be willing to step up and do more than your immediate job description. Even though I was a merch guy, if anything, anywhere else needed to be done, I’d do it anyway. You do it to help the guy you ride a bus with every night.
Do you have any show-day rituals?
Show-day rituals tend to be a little different, depending on what project we’re on the road with. Our tours are unique in that there’s so much going on outside when the show is inside. I like to walk the house when the band is soundchecking and then, walk outside the venue because we tend to impact neighborhoods wherever we go. By the time the band’s onstage soundchecking, people are arriving, setting up and Shakedown Street might be happening.
Do you deal with a lot of that?
We don’t necessarily have to deal with it, but I like to know what’s going on with it—specifically if we’re in a city or situation we’ve never done before. Is this a negative or positive impact on the town? Is everyone getting along with the restaurants and bars in the neighborhood? Are the people who want to line up to get up front early being accommodated in line? Is it starting off right? Anything that does then go wrong in that situation—if they’re not prepared with the right traffic pattern—that can affect the show. I like to be at the front doors when they open just to see those first people come in. If I can’t do that, I like to be on the stage to see them entering the building to make sure that’s going smooth.
With Furthur in particular, I also call the house lights every night. It’s more impactful for the lights to go dark and then, the band to hit the stage without a long delay. I noticed a few years back that wasn’t always how it was happening, so I took it on myself. I realized I’m the one person who really knows when they’re ready because I walk Bob to and from the stage every night, so I’m closest to the huddle out of anyone else on the tour. It’s a little unusual for a manager to call house lights—it’s usually a stage manager or production manager—but it’s something I took on and kept doing.
Where are you when the show is going on?
Once the show starts, I watch the first song stage right, and stage right is usually where I live for most of the show to watch. That’s where Bob’s tech is. That’s Bobby’s world on the stage. If I feel like I need to hear something more clearly, I’ll go to stage left to put on monitor headphones. At some point during that first set, I’ll walk the house one more time. Does it feel too crowded? Does it sound good?
How do you respond if things are not up to par?
It depends on the problem. If I’m having a sound issue, I go to the production manager and say, “This is what I’m hearing,” and he’ll go to the sound guy. I try not to interfere with guys as they’re doing their job and just “Hey, hey,” meddle like that. I’ll bring it up when the time’s appropriate.
I have a radio with our crew, so I can get anyone at any time. If I see there is something that needs to be dealt with right away, I’ll go to our stage manager or tour manager. I try to let everyone do their jobs, rather than just jump in and start talking to someone in a venue who hasn’t seen me all day and doesn’t know who I am—I’d rather have what I’m seeing come from someone they’re used to dealing with.
Walking the whole house means going back to the doors and seeing if there is still a long line a half-hour in. That’s something I like to be aware of because if we are doing multiple nights, we will address how to get people in faster the next night.
We don’t like starting and knowing that half the house is still outside but at the same time, we almost always have curfews so we can’t just wait for them. Sometimes the venue can get them in faster with a less strict pat-down. Sometimes you can’t control it. If too many people in our audience are carrying backpacks, it requires longer searches.
It will also include finding out how many people are still outside. That’s valuable information for a lot of different reasons. If we’re sold out, that’s how many more people would have bought tickets and how many people are outside and still impacting the community. How can we deal with not being too heavy-handed in the community when there might be 1,000 people in a small town outside a venue who will never get into the venue?
When does your day end?
My day ends not just when we’re on the bus leaving the town, but whenever the conversation on the bus has moved on from what just happened at the show—or what we’re expecting at the next show—to some completely non-music industry related topic. That’s usually when a sport has come on TV.
And what time is that around?
Our typical show ends at 11 p.m. Bob has guests in every city so he likes to see his friends and family. We hang for about an hour after each show. We might hit the road around 12:00-12:30 a.m. There will be some food on the bus to eat. By 1:30 a.m., we’re on to something else, which is usually the 49ers, Yankees, Giants or the political news of the day. Eventually, I fall asleep and I can’t answer any questions in my sleep—at least not yet.